Collaborating for a Stronger Appalachian Ohio

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By Paul Hopkins and Charity Dodd 


The recent Rural Education National Forum in Columbus, Ohio brought together more than 500 rural education leaders from 39 states to connect and collaborate for rural prosperity. Over the past five years, the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC) has been a national model of how rural school districts can connect and collaborate to provide greater educational opportunities for students.  

The OAC was established in 2010 as a partnership among 21 rural districts and Battelle for Kids to help level the playing field for Appalachian students in Ohio. These districts came together to address the challenges of educating students in Ohio’s rural areas faced with, high costs for staff recruitment and student transportation and child poverty rates well above the national average. The OAC has matured in membership and focus since then. Supported by a grant from Ohio’s Straight A Innovation Fund, the OAC Straight A work is focused on providing personalized learning and adequate resources to assist its 27 rural districts in facilitating improvement that will impact 48,000 students. 

Andrew McCrea—a farmer, rancher, popular author, and nationally-syndicated radio broadcaster—delivered a powerful keynote address during the Rural Forum about how making learning personal and purposeful and teaching and leading with the proper perspective can transform the educational experience for students. His remarks also included an important reminder of how change is exhilarating when done by us, instead of change being thrust upon us. 

The OAC continues to thrive because member districts leverage the strength of the collaborative to strategically blaze new trails for Ohio’s Appalachian communities and schools.  Change is driven by OAC districts through an intentional focus on being personal, purposeful, and leading with the right perspective.

A number of OAC districts are focused on building student motivation during the 2016-17 school year. Jamie Meade, Managing Director of Learning and Leading at Battelle for Kids, recently delivered the convocation at River View Local Schools on fostering hope for student success. The district’s faculty and staff are putting this message into action by assisting students in setting goals, fostering student agency, and ensuring students have the ability to anticipate and plan for obstacles. Like many other districts in the OAC, River View believes hope matters and is working to make teaching and learning personal.

OAC districts recognize the value and necessity of operating with purpose, particularly in working to develop personalized learning pathways for students. The collaborative has created 56 pathways in Arts & Communication, Business & Entrepreneurship, Health & Human Service, and STEM—all areas with a direct link to the region. Indian Valley Local Schools, for example, meets individually with all freshmen students and their families about the importance of having a plan for graduation. Beginning in middle school, Indian Valley students take career interest inventories, are given exposure to potential careers through work-based learning opportunities, and are advised to enroll in courses related to their interests. In high school, the district helps students build purposeful pathways to graduation and beyond. Indian Valley teachers and counselors use data about students’ interests, skills, career assessments, and academic assessments to purposefully guide students towards their goals. 

The ability to work and learn from one another to anticipate change is a key reason why OAC districts find the collaborative experience so meaningful. Working together, school leaders are not only able to respond to changes in state and federal laws, but serve as powerful advocates to influence the change. Superintendents Tony Dunn from Belpre City Schools and Christopher Burrows from Georgetown Exempted Village Schools are members of the OAC Advocacy Team. In this role, they leverage the influence of the OAC to advocate for issues that will move education forward for all students Appalachian Ohio. They ensure that state leaders and policymakers recognize the unique perspective found and faced by educators, students, families, and communities in the region.

By leveraging the talents and resources from our member districts, the OAC is working together to transform educational and economic opportunities in Appalachian Ohio..

Download the 2015‒2016 OAC Straight A Annual Report and Austin’s Journey: A Path to Rural Transformation in Ohio, which demonstrates how the OAC is impacting students, educators, and communities in Appalachian Ohio. 

Paul Hopkins is a Senior Director of Learning and Leading at Battelle for Kids, who helps lead the organization’s work with the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative. Follow him on Twitter at @paulthopkins.  

Charity Dodd is a Specialist of Learning and Leading at Battelle for Kids, who leads college and career readiness work with the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative members. Follow her on Twitter at @CharityDodd